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Princes Hot Chicken started a food craze that has since been copied around the world and is likely coming your way

Heads turn as Andr Prince Jeffries silver bangles jingling and cane in hand makes her way towards her reserved table at Nashvilles premier hot chicken joint, Princes Hot Chicken.

Since her early thirties, Jeffries, now 72, has been at the helm of the poultry dynasty that started a trend for lip burning, tear-inducing fried chicken that has spread around the world.

Before Jeffries positions herself in her regular seat, facing the crowd of believers, a woman she doesnt know walks up to her and whispers, Thank you for being a national treasure.

Jeffries beams.

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  • Andr Prince Jeffries, Princes Hot Chicken owner.Photograph: Ben Rollins/The Guardian

Jeffries uncle opened a chicken shack almost 80 years ago serving Nashvilles working class black community. The business grew in popularity with the citys music singers and concertgoers, and began attracting white customers, eventually establishing hot chicken as a near-ubiquitous speciality in Nashville.

The craze for hot chicken has also spread to cities in the US including Chicago, New York and LA, and internationally as far away as Seoul and Melbourne. And its soon coming to London.

A few years ago, KFC in the US jumped on the bandwagon and now has Nashville hot on its menu.

But although some fear the dish risks being approximated, or diluted, Nashville is home to the speciality and Jeffries is the keeper of the recipe for the most authentic version. Last year Princes was lauded as an icon in Eaters annual list 38 essential American restaurants.

The

  • The line inside the Ewing location of Princes Hot Chicken Shack. In December 2018 an SUV collided into the strip mall where Princes was located, causing serious damage to the business. Photograph: Joe Buglewicz

When I visit the south outpost of Nashville Hot Chicken, the line is 50 people deep and the restaurant steams with spices as Jeffries waves to the regulars. The original location north of the city centre remains under construction after an early morning car crash and subsequent fire led to its temporary closure.

Every evening, until the closure, Jeffries would take her place at the original location, from 5pm until midnight.

My little hole in the wall, I miss it, she says in frustration. A delayed reopening has kept her from perching over her chicken kingdom, her second home. She leans in conspiratorially to tell me that she has heard even members of the British royal family enjoy the chicken.

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  • The first Princes Hot Chicken opened almost 80 years ago. Photograph: Ben Rollins/The Guardian

The legend of the cheating uncle

Jeffries loves telling the story of how it all began thanks to her cheating uncles angry girlfriend.

Great Uncle Thornton, who Jeffries says was tall, charming and good looking, stayed out late one night and came home just in time for the Sunday morning meal. To punish him, his furious girlfriend had thrown so much pepper into the chicken it wouldnt be edible: of that she was sure. When she served it up to her philandering partner, he took one bite, loved it and asked her to make it again, going on to adapt it for his chicken shack. The rest is history.

Everyone gives him credit for opening it, but I give it to the lady he was with, Jeffries says with a smirk. It certainly got his attention and its still getting peoples attention.

Jeffries took over in the 1980s. Here I am stepping up, not knowing anything, she says with a laugh, I had only cooked chicken once growing up.

She changed two things: the original shack had been dubbed a BBQ chicken joint. It was hot, spicy, so I wanted to name it after the family name and the hot chicken. So off we went.

The

  • The quarter plate of hot chicken served with french fries. Photograph: Joe Buglewicz

XXX hot

The other change is what has made the shack famous.

The original hot chicken is now the mild option. Jeffries added variations, ranging from plain to XXX hot, though at one point she refused to keep the XXX version on the menu anymore. Its extra hot. I dont like to keep it here. Somebody in the kitchen might see somebody they dont like and give it to them. That has happened. I dont want somebody to use it as a lethal weapon, she said with a wink.

She sticks to the mild version herself, though she loves patrons trying the flaming red-tinged hot version of the chicken with a slice of pickle.

One woman told me she has a special car seat for the chicken. She has a safety belt for the chicken. Can you imagine?

Her uncles original shack was popular with the black community in the city, and later attracted white diners. A profile earlier this year in the New Yorker notes how: Under Jim Crow, the Princes were not free to dine wherever and however they wanted, or to use the front door of white establishments, but they never told their own customers where to sit or what door to use. The matter handled itself: black patrons sat up front; whites entered through the back door and sat in back.

One patron proclaims Princes the place to be and explains how much his family love its diversity. Bob Armstrong, 53, talks as he has a meal with his 15-year-old daughter Clea. The family moved to Nashville three years ago from Singapore. Youve got black, white, everything in the the vibe. Its diverse, Armstrong says.

Rosalind

Margaret

The customers

Rosalind Turner, 54, is a Nashville native who has been coming to get her fix for 35 years. Theres no taste like it. It cant get duplicated because this is where hot chicken started, she claimed. When she was younger, she says, she used to go weekly to the original location. This visit, she sat in traffic for an hour, just to get her portion of mild chicken.

Margaret Lehner, 11, says her dad has brought her here for the second time. Shes managed to get as far as the mild version but her dad eats the hot version, she says. I like it cause its fast and because it tastes better than a lot of places.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/apr/17/even-the-royal-family-enjoys-it-how-the-nashville-hot-chicken-trend-began-princes

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